It was the first semester of 2017, my first semester in university, when Goethe came across my path. For a Modern World Literature module, I had to read The Sorrows of Young Werther and, from then on, just like it happened with Dostoevsky, I started to search for any book written by the author every time I got into a book store. Believe it or not, it’s not easy to find Goethe’s work. You may find the novel already mentioned, The Elective Affinities, and the play Faust. But it was nearly impossible to put my hands on the title that drew my attention the most: Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship.
I don’t know what I was expecting. Something Notes from Underground style, probably. I was hoping to learn Wilhelm’s ideology and life lessons and get advice from him. Instead, I got all the circumstances by which the protagonist became who he is: his family, friends, adventures, lovers, dreams and failures. Basically, his life. I didn’t know what to say when people asked me about the novel’s plot!
Here’s the thing: the formation of the hero from his beginnings to a certain degree of perfection is the unifying instance and the common thread of the whole story. Nothing happens without it also happening in Wilhelm and for Wilhelm. His soul just seeks adventure to be tested by it, finally entering a new state of affairs.
Who would have guessed this novel of formation would arrive in my life in October 2021, right after graduating from uni? Especially with the protagonist’s final realisation. Was I getting a warning from destiny?
That’s when it hit me. Human beings cannot control chance, but at the same time, they cannot resist the will to dominate it. So obvious, yet so frustrating; we spend our whole lives imagining, planning and building our future. A complete reality check: there’s always a struggle between the self and the world. Problematic though possible, each one of us will start a journey to reconcile these two. No one knows what we will encounter; the only certainty is it will take us a long way until we assimilate the inner world with the outer one.
After all, the ability to cope with life requires years of apprenticeship.